NASCAR viewer’s guide: Phoenix Raceway


The NASCAR Cup Series ends its West Coast Swing with a pivotal trip to Phoenix Raceway, building the notebook for this fall’s championship race.

Cup teams tested the Next Gen car at the 1-mile, D-shaped oval in late January, the final test before the 2022 season began. Martin Truex Jr. was victorious in March 2021 and was part of the Championship 4 chasing a title last November. But it was Kyle Larson who claimed his first Cup championship and first win at Phoenix when the series last visited to end the season.

Three races into the new year, it’s time to see who’s building momentum and who’s falling behind entering Phoenix Raceway for Sunday’s race (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX).

The more things change…

To the shock of very few, the elite teams in NASCAR remain elite. Team Penske and Hendrick Motorsports are the lone programs to score victories in this young season, and Joe Gibbs Racing found two of its drivers — Truex and Kyle Busch — duking it out for the apparent win before a late caution in Las Vegas.

Drivers are quickly learning how to balance their cars on the edge of control — some quicker than others. And the best teams in the sport tend to feature the best wheelmen too. Maybe that’s why Larson, Truex, Joey Logano, Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric and Busch hold the top five points positions too.

Three races, new faces

On the contrary, these first three Cup races have displayed the most parity in nearly 50 years.

Twenty-five drivers with top 10s thus far is an astounding number. And while the faces highest among the leaderboard have been from familiar teams, take a look around at who else has been competitive. In consecutive weeks, winless drivers Tyler Reddick (90, Auto Club) and Ross Chastain (83, Vegas) have led the most laps respectively.

Erik Jones, driving the No. 43 Chevrolet for Petty GMS Motorsports, has the second-best average running position in the series at 11.111, according to NASCAR’s loop data statistics. Sixth in that category is JTG-Daugherty Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at 12.127.

The Next Gen car has shown that driver talent matters — at least for now. Surely, the sport’s aforementioned powerhouses will remain as such and might weed out the pretenders from the contenders in short order. But what a start for the other guys so far.

Fresh configuration, fresh winners

In the seven races since the start/finish line was moved to the exit of what was previously Turn 2, six different drivers have gone to victory lane.

That list includes Larson and Chase Elliott, the past two winners of the fall race to claim their first career titles. The only driver to repeat on the current configuration is Busch, who won the fall 2018 and spring 2019 events. But for all the different faces in victory lane, only three organizations have gone to Victory Lane: Hendrick Motorsports (Larson and Elliott), Joe Gibbs Racing (Busch, Truex and Hamlin) and Team Penske, which got there via Joey Logano’s triumph in spring 2020.

Leading? Not for long

If you like lead changes, you might like this weekend’s race in Phoenix. Eight of the last 10 races there have featured at least 15 lead changes.

The Next Gen car has provided plenty of opportunity to pass for the lead through three races, evidenced by 35 lead changes at Daytona, 32 at Auto Club and 23 at Las Vegas. That trend seems very likely to continue Sunday in Phoenix.

Down to the wire

All three races this season have come down to restarts within the final four laps, including overtime periods at both Daytona and Las Vegas. The final pass for the lead? That’s happened in the final 10 laps all three weeks too.

Leading the most laps has not netted a win yet in 2022, as Brad Keselowski, Reddick and Chastain have learned. Who knows? Maybe that changes this weekend in Phoenix.

Entry lists

The 36 chartered teams make up the entry list for Sunday’s Rouff Mortgage 500 at Phoenix Raceway.

On the Xfinity Series entry list are 42 competitors. Only 38 spots are available, so four teams will fail to qualify.

NASCAR Cup Series Entry List — Phoenix Raceway

NASCAR Xfinity Series Entry List — Phoenix Raceway

Qualifying order

The Cup Series is back to its regularly planned practice format this weekend in Phoenix with a slight tweak. Teams will be able to practice for 20 minutes, separated into Group A and Group B based on a calculated metric that factors fastest laps, points positions and results from the previous week’s race. The 20-minute session is a five-minute increase from NASCAR’s original schedule.

After practice, each group will participate in single-car, single-lap qualifying. The five fastest teams from each group will advance to the second round for another single-lap effort to compete for the pole position.

The Xfinity Series will allow all teams to practice in its 30-minute session before single-car, single-lap and single-round qualifying.

NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying Order — Phoenix Raceway

NASCAR Xfinity Series Qualifying Order — Phoenix Raceway

This weekend’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Friday, March 11

Forecast: Sunny, high of 73 degrees, low of 45 degrees

  • 4 p.m. — ARCA practice/qualifying
  • 7:30 p.m. — ARCA race (MAVTV, FloRacing, MRN)

Saturday, March 12

Forecast: Mostly sunny, high of 78 degrees, low of 50 degrees

  • 11:30 a.m. — Xfinity practice (FS1)
  • 12 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)
  • 1:30 p.m. — Cup practice (FS1, MRN)
  • 2:05 p.m. — Cup qualifying (FS1, MRN)
  • 4:30 p.m. — Xfinity race (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, March 13

Forecast: Mostly sunny, high of 81 degrees, low of 52 degrees

  • 3:30 p.m. — Cup race (FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

COTA Truck starting lineup: Ross Chastain wins pole


Ross Chastain will start on the pole for Saturday’s Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas.

Chastain earned the top starting spot in Friday’s qualifying with a lap of 91.877 mph. He’ll be joined on the front row by Kyle Busch (91.490 mph).

More: COTA Truck starting lineup

Ty Majeski qualified third with a lap of 91.225 mph. Rookie Nick Sanchez (90.993) will start fourth, and Christian Eckes (90.937) will complete the top five.

Alex Bowman failed to make the race. Bowman had a flat right front on his qualifying lap.

Tyler Reddick leads Cup practice at COTA


Tyler Reddick posted the fastest lap in Friday’s Cup practice at Circuit of the Americas.

Reddick, who won two road course races last season, topped the field in his 23XI Racing Toyota with a lap of 92.989 mph. Kyle Larson was next, posting a lap of 92.618 mph around the 3.41-mile road course.

MORE: COTA Cup practice results

Ross Chastain, who won this race a year ago, was third on the speed chart in practice with a lap of 92.520 mph. He was followed by Kyle Busch (92.498 mph) and Daniel Suarez (92.461 mph).

Jordan Taylor, subbing for the injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports, was 10th on the speed chart in practice after a lap of 92.404 mph.

Former world champion Jenson Button, driving for Rick Ware Racing, was 28th in practice with a lap of 91.759 mph. Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen, driving the Project 91 car for Trackhouse Racing, was 32nd in practice after a lap of 91.413 mph.

Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, driving in his first race for Legacy Motor Club since the Daytona 500, was 36th in practice after a lap of 91.072 mph. IndyCar driver Conor Daly was last among the 39 cars in practice with a lap of 90.095 mph.

Cup qualifying is Saturday. The series races Sunday.


Saturday COTA Xfinity race: Start time, TV info, weather


Austin Hill, the dominant driver in the NASCAR Xfinity Series through the early weeks of the season, will be looking for his first Xfinity road course win Saturday.

Hill has won three of the season’s first five races, scoring victories at Daytona, Las Vegas and Atlanta.

Hill has been close in previous road course runs. He has a second at COTA, a third at Portland, a fourth at Road America and a ninth at Indianapolis.

MORE: Dr. Diandra takes a look at top Cup road course drivers

Kyle Busch and AJ Allmendinger own wins in the previous Xfinity races at COTA.

Allmendinger and three other Cup Series regulars — Aric Almirola, William Byron and Ty Gibbs — are scheduled to race in the Xfinity event.

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Circuit of the Americas

(All times Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 5:08 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled at 5:19 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 2 p.m. … The invocation will be given by Jordan Thiessen of Pit Boss Grills at 5 p.m. … The national anthem will be performed by recording artist Payton Keller at 5:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 46 laps (156 miles) on the 3.41-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 14. Stage 2 ends at Lap 30.

TV/RADIO: FS1 will broadcast the race at 5 p.m. … NASCAR RaceDay airs at 4 p.m. on FS1. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. and can be heard at …SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Mainly sunny. Temperature of 82 at race time. No chance of rain.

LAST TIME: AJ Allmendinger won last March’s Xfinity race at COTA. Austin Hill was two seconds behind in second place. Cole Custer finished third.

NASCAR Friday schedule at Circuit of the Americas


NASCAR’s new Cup Series aerodynamic package for short tracks and road courses will be tested in competition on a road circuit for the first time this weekend as the tour stops at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

All three major national series will be in action at the 3.41-mile, 20-turn track this weekend. The schedule begins Friday with practice for all three series and qualifying for Xfinity and Trucks.

MORE: Drivers say North Wilkesboro’s worn surface will be challenging

The Friday practice was added for Cup teams because of the new competition package, providing 50 minutes of on-track time for adjustments. Teams also will be racing with a new tire compound this weekend.

Chase Elliott (2021) and Ross Chastain (2022) are winners from the previous Cup races at COTA. Elliott won the inaugural event in a race shortened by rain, and Chastain won after a last-lap battle with AJ Allmendinger and Alex Bowman. The victory was Chastain’s first in the series.

A look at Friday’s schedule:

Circuit of the Americas (Cup, Xfinity and Truck)

Weekend weather

Friday: Thunderstorms in the morning. Mostly sunny later. High of 87 with an 80% chance of rain.

Friday, March 24

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 11:30 a.m. .- 6:30 p.m. — Truck Series
  • 1:30 – 8:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 2:05 – 2:55 p.m. — Cup practice (No live broadcast; tape-delayed version airing at 8 p.m. on FS1)
  • 4:30 – 5 p.m. — Truck practice (No live broadcast)
  • 5 – 6 p.m. — Truck qualifying (No live broadcast; tape-delayed version airing at 9 p.m. on FS1)
  • 6:30 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity practice (FS1)
  • 7 – 8 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)